The ugly thing about discussions of censorship is that, to stand up for some basic fundamentals of American rights, you usually find yourself defending some of the most despicable people around. That’s to be expected. No one is interested in banning books from Mother Theresa or Mr. Rogers. No, the targets are invariably people who are spreading noxious ideologies, “hate speech,” and other forms of radically unpopular expression. Standing up for the rights of Richard Spencer isn’t going to make you a hometown hero, but it’s important nonetheless.
Our First Amendment provides for free speech, but it does not, of course, compel private businesses to sell any books that come across their desk. We get that. We’re certainly not calling for Congress to crack down on Amazon for their decision to ban the sale of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” autobiography. We’re not suggesting that Amazon is violating the Constitution by taking most editions of the book off their digital shelves.
On the other hand, Amazon is the world’s largest retailer of books. When a title goes missing from their library, it has an enormous effect on the number of people who have ready access to that book. Amazon needs to take an extremely cautious hand when banning books, even when they have been written by one of the most murderous dictators of the 20th century.
History is not just a chronicle of the saintly. We can learn as much from the depraved as we can from the righteous. Indeed, we need both sides of the ledger to properly understand the full spectrum of human behavior.
This conspires to make Amazon’s decision highly questionable.
“Booksellers were informed in recent days that they would no longer be allowed to sell a number of Nazi-authored books on the website including Hitler’s autobiographical screed and children’s books designed to spread antisemitic ideas among children,” reports The Guardian.
“Amazon would not comment on what had prompted it to change its mind on the issue but a recent intervention to remove the books by the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust received the backing of leading British politicians,” the report continued.
We understand both sides of the debate, and we certainly understand why Jewish groups and Holocaust charities would want to see these books removed. Hitler’s tome is a portrait of a man filled with resentment, entitlement, hatred, and specific anti-semitism. He makes no attempt to whitewash himself or put his best foot forward. You don’t read the book and think, Gee, who would have thought. Nah, it’s pretty much all right out there for you to see.
Nonetheless. This book is an archive of important – nay, essential – history. Burying it, banning it, and making it hard to find does not prevent the “next” Hitler from rising; it makes it all the more likely.
Amazon should reconsider. At the very least, this is a slippery slope.